GUWAHATI, June 13 - At a time when some instances of sexual harassment are making headlines in the State, a very low level of awareness among women about the legal provisions to ensure their security has come as a shocker in a recent study.
In the last few weeks the State has witnessed a number of incidents where girl students and other women have been subjected to sexual violence at their academic institutions or places of work including government and private jobs.
The study titled Workplace Safety and Dignity for Women in Assam conducted by the North East Network (NEN) and the Department of Women Studies, Gauhati University, found the women unaware of the basic concept of safety at their places of work.
The study found that 68.9 per cent of the offices do not have a complaint mechanism to address the sexual harassment of women at their workplace. On the other hand, the study also revealed that while 51.8 per cent of the employers knew about the Sexual Harassment Act, only 38.2 per cent of the employees knew about it.
It may be noted that the Act mandates the employers to make their employees aware of its provisions. Of the 38.2 per cent employees who knew about the Act, only one-third came to know about it from the policies at their respective workplaces, while the rest came to know about it from other sources. Mental harassment � connected to a hostile work environment � was also reported by 21.5 per cent employees.
While 41 per cent employees admitted to occurrence of some form of sexual harassment at their workplace, the remaining 59 per cent said that though they did not encounter direct acts of sexual harassment, they did come across certain forms of unwarranted behaviour from their male colleagues which were accepted as normal.
According to Anurita P Hazarika, state director of NEN, �The Sexual Harassment Act has a number of provisions for protecting the woman employees at their respective workplaces. Similar is the case with the students. However, unfortunately, our women are not aware of such provisions. Even among the educated sections of women, there is less awareness about the provision like an internal committee to complain against the sexual offences.�
Denial and normalisation of sexual offences against the woman employees were found common at the workplaces. Majority of employers believed that if and when the cases of sexual harassment arise they can be dealt with under the regular human rights rules and service rule of the employees� code of conduct. However, in reality, as per the SH Act, all such proceedings would remain null and void unless they pass through a complaint committee envisioned in the Act.
The study was conducted dividing the State into seven zones: Kamrup Metro district, north bank, south bank, hill districts, Barak Valley, BTAD and lower Assam districts. From within the zones, seven urban centres were chosen as study areas and a total of 364 employees and 213 employers were interviewed for the purpose. Women from urban, semi-urban and rural areas of the State were chosen for the study. The employees included both highly educated and non-literate women.